By Bryan Hendricks
Missouri’s four trout parks are known as great places to go if you want to catch a lot of stocker-size trout, but not so great for trophy trout. I used to believe that, too, but I was mistaken.
Last July, Jeff Tiefenauer of Desloge, Missouri, caught a brown trout at Bennett Spring State Park that weighed 16 pounds, 15 ounces. When I heard about it, I was impressed, but I figured the guy just got lucky and caught a big fish that had been released for a kids’ fishing derby.
Far from it. That fish is merely the biggest in a very long line of trophy trout that Tiefenauer has caught from the trout parks since 1967. He’s among a group of anglers who target trophy trout at the parks. This group includes James Washabaugh, Danny Horton and Rick Young. During our conversations, not once did Tiefenauer or Horton mention Lake Taneycomo, Missouri’s most famous trophy trout water. They’re loyal to the parks, and for good reason. They catch monster trout there.
For the record, Tiefenauer’s brute weighed 17 pounds, 2 ounces on an uncertified scale. Unfortunately, he didn’t get it on a certified scale for more than an hour, and even then the scale wasn’t big enough to hold the fish, Tiefenauer said. It hit the floor several times before it would stay in the hopper long enough for the needle to rest.
Like deer hunters who target only the biggest bucks, Tiefenauer and Horton seek giant brown and rainbow trout. Also, like trophy deer hunters, they spend a great deal of time scouting. When they find a big fish, they try to catch it by drifting nymphs, usually scuds, to it.
“That’s pretty much all we do,” said Horton, whose 9-pound, 2-ounce brown was the biggest trout reported at Roaring River State Park in 2003. “We probably spend 40 to 50 percent of our time looking for fish, but that’s what you have to do.”
Tiefenauer first fished Bennett Spring in 1981. He returned the following year with a group of friends, and on the first day, all of them had hooked a big fish. In 1983, he caught a 12-pound rainbow. In 1985, he caught a 9-pound brown at Maramec Park and an 11.5-pounder at Maramec in 1986. In 2001, he released a rainbow at Bennett Spring that topped 10 pounds, as well as an 8-pound brown. Last year, Tiefenauer’s wife, Susie, caught an 8-pound brown. Three days before Jeff Tiefenauer caught his big fish, a young girl caught a brown at Bennett that weighed 15 pounds, 13 ounces. For years, a friend of Tiefenauer’s named John Teeple had the park record with a fish that weighed 15 pounds, 9 ounces.
Meanwhile, Rick Young has caught and released a 9.2-pound rainbow at Roaring River, and also a 10.2-pound brown at Bennett Spring.
Best of all, they’ve got the photos to prove it.
Having established that the parks have the chops to play with the big boys, the obvious question is, how in the world do they do it? Every angler in Missouri has seen photos of the trout season opener at the parks. Anglers stand shoulder to shoulder on every inch of accessible shoreline. For any fish, let alone a big one, to run that gauntlet unscathed would be a miracle. The reason the parks have such big fish, said Horton, is catch-and-release. Most trout caught in the bait areas are creeled and released into Lake Crisco. Those in the catch-and-release areas are caught and released many times, so they just keep growing.
“There’s also a good bit of water,” Horton said. “There are plenty of places for big fish to hide and get away.”
To improve your chances of catching a trophy, here’s a quick look at the three best trout parks, Bennett Spring, Roaring River and Montauk.
Located on the Niangua River, Bennett Spring State Park straddles the river at the point where Bennett Spring boils up from its subterranean channel. It more than doubles the volume of the river, infusing it with a massive slug of icy water. The biggest fish are in Zone 2, Tiefenauer said, but Zone 3 holds some big ones, too. Of course, timing is also important. Surprisingly, late summer is one of the best times to target big fish.
“In late summer, the big browns come upriver from the deep holes to get closer to the spring,” Tiefenauer said. “I caught the big fish at the High Bank Hole. I had seen this fish early in the day, but he was in deep water, and I never had a chance to throw at him. Danny Horton saw him, too. I walked back downstream later to see if I could find it, and it was feeding in the High Bank Hole in 2 feet of water.”
The Spring Hole, where the spring appears, has a lot of fish, Tiefenauer said, but it’s so deep that it’s hard to get a nymph down to the fish. The good fishing really starts at the gauge tower. That stretch has some good cover and a good mix of depths.
The Bluff Hole is also an excellent spot, he said. Around Labor Day last year, he saw several browns there in the 9- and 10-pound class, along with a good number of 3- and 4-pounders.
Located southwest of Salem, in Dent County, Montauk State Park is on the Current River. It’s more remote and less popular than Bennett, but Tiefenauer said it’s a great place for trophies.
“I’ve caught some real nice browns below Montauk,” he said. “There’s a big, deep hole at Tan Vat Access, and there’s a long run in there where it’s common to see eight to 10 browns that run 3 to 4 pounds.
“The worst thing about it is that it’s three miles long,” he added. “The bait area gets fished pretty hard, but the catch-and-release area is good. It’s got some big fish, and it’s a good place to practice casting because there aren’t many trees or brush to catch your line. Somebody caught a 13.2-pound brown there last summer. In the summer of ’95, I had 14 fish over 4 pounds. I also had some 7- and 8-pounders, and some 5- and 6-pounders. I caught them all over the park.”
Tall banks border the Current River at Montauk. Tiefenauer said that’s an important consideration when fishing for trophies because of the way the hills funnel sunlight to the water. Sight-fishing isn’t productive when the surface glares. Your chances improve when you can see to the bottom.
Located south of Cassville, Roaring River is a w
onderful place to fish. Before you even think about wetting a line, look at all the huge trout swimming in the spring hole. If that doesn’t get your motor running, nothing will.
Roaring River is Susie Tiefenauer’s favorite spot. It has a steeper gradient than the other streams, so the water moves faster. The pools are shorter, and the riffles are faster and more dramatic.
“I don’t know how many fish over 9 pounds the boys and I have caught at Roaring River,” Jeff Tiefenauer said. “I’ve personally caught a 9-5, a 9-8 and a 10. It’s got fly water, and it has another area where you can use anything other than bait. It’s smaller than the others, so you don’t have to cast as far, and the fish are concentrated in the main holes.”
Skip Halterman, owner of the White River School of Fly-Fishing in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, said the best fishing for big trout in Roaring River is below the park. That water is lightly fished. Tiefenauer has heard the same thing, but said his success has been spotty.
If you want to see for yourself, you could float a canoe from the park to Table Rock Lake. This would allow you to fish deep holes that are lightly pressured, increasing your chances of catching a monster.
Danny Horton prefers Roaring River early in the year, but said big fish are more abundant at Bennett in the summer. He said his main fly is a scud in size 18 or 20. He uses a 6X tippet in the spring and sizes down to a 7X in the summer.
“The key to landing those big fish is to have good rods and reels,” Horton said. “If you don’t have them, you’re not going to land many of those big ones. A good drag is the most important thing for me. Most of the expense in a reel is in the drag, but it’s worth every dime.”
Or course, no place in the state has more big trout than Taneycomo, but visiting Missouri’s trout parks could pay off big. To fish the parks, you need a daily fishing permit from the park, as well as either a Missouri trout permit or a regular fishing license.
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